Enjoying the great outdoors can be an incredible experience. Here are some tips and helpful information so that you can enjoy a safe and rewarding time during your outdoor sporting.





As general gun season prepares to kick off in Central Florida and beyond, let’s not forget that safety is key for hunters, their friends and families, and the thousands just enjoying the outdoors. Whether you’re using wildlife management areas like Green Swamp, or on private land; mutual respect for hunters and hikers alike should be top of mind. Hunting is a wellestablished and traditional use of our forests in Florida; returning home safely to recall the exciting stories of the day can be the best part of the hunt.

As a hunter myself, I am often asked about how to hike safely in the woods during hunting season; so every year, it bears repeating. Remember, hunters who walk through the woods to follow their targets – or to get to a remote deer stand deep in the forest – are hikers, too. So are the many people who simply enjoy walking through the woods in search of wildlife, armed with a camera. The goal in both cases is to remain safe, so here’s a few tips:


• Wear a bright orange vest, whether you are hunting or not. Hunters are generally required to display 500 square inches of bright orange, but anyone traveling in the woods should be encouraged to do the same to remain visible.

• Use courtesy when walking past deer stands or hunt camps. If you come across a hunter high up in a tree and did not realize the stand was there, stop and turn around to find another way. Visibility is important here; sneaking up through the woods and startling a hunter is not a good idea. Acknowledge the hunter with a hand signal if you can, then backtrack if possible. It’s likely that the hunter has seen you coming from his/her vantage point.

• Walk softly. But if you’re with a group, talk so hunters know where you are. It’s not recommended that hikers walk through areas that are known hunting spots during season; while it’s not against the law, it can be dangerous. Again, it’s best not to surprise hunters in the woods, and even fellow hunters should proceed with caution.

• Don’t intentionally spook wildlife when you’re around hunters. The animals are in the area for natural reasons; it’s best not to disturb the normal patterns of local wildlife.

• Be friendly in your interactions with others you encounter in the woods. Show respect, and you’ll receive respect in return.

If you’re uncomfortable with hunting as a sport, or uncomfortable about sharing the woods with hunters, there are plenty of other places you can play in among Florida’s forests during hunting season. With rare exceptions, Florida State Parks and county parks with trails do not allow any hunting at any time of year.

General gun season in the Central Florida area runs in two separate zones and continues through late-January or mid- February, depending on the precise area. Keep in mind that on some public lands, your camping options and/or access are restricted during general gun season for everyone’s safety.



Before casting your first line onto one of the over 500 freshwater lakes in Polk County, here are a few tips on terminology and technique, as offered by www.takemefishing.org:

• WHEN TO FISH: There really are better times to fish. And they’re affected by sunlight, warming trends, water depth, storm and weather patterns, wind and tidal flows, topography, geography and season differences. With the arrival of fall and cooling air temperatures, water at the surface of lakes cools, becoming almost as heavy as the cooler bottom water. Autumn breezes move surface water around, which promotes mixing with deeper water. As mixing continues, lake water becomes more uniform in temperature and oxygen level, allowing fish to move around freely.


• WATER TEMPERATURE: Each fish has a different range of water temperature in which it can survive. Although fish cannot always find the exact temperature they prefer, they are usually found in water close to that temperature. By combining knowledge of preferred water temperature and lake turnover, you can make a general prediction of which fish will be in a particular part of a lake at a particular time of the year.

• LIGHT: Fish prefer early morning and evening sun to the bright sun of midday. Morning sun warms the shallows, creating more comfortable water temperatures for fish to feed. Late morning is best when the sun has had more of a chance to warm the shallows. This is particularly true during early spring in shallows with dark or mud bottoms because dark areas absorb heat more rapidly than light sandy bottoms. Warm water temperatures make bait fish more active and available to game fish on cool earlyspring days. On hot sunny days, fish move to cooler, deeper waters to stay comfortable. High-heat conditions make shallow and top water lures and bait best only in the early morning and late afternoon when cooler temperatures and lower light levels allow fish to cruise the shallows for meals. In midday, hot water surface temperature, decreased surface oxygen, and occasional increasing winds cause fish to move deeper. In these conditions, deep fishing baits, rigs and lures are best.


• PLAYING THE FISH: When a fish feels the hook, it struggles to get free. This might involve jumping, making a long run, and swimming back against the line or swimming around obstacles. Each species of fish fights differently. Fish hooked in shallow water are more likely to jump and behave more frantically than those hooked in deep water. Deep-water fish often seek the bottom. It’s possible to land many small fish just by reeling them in. They’ll fight, but they aren’t as strong as the line and the rod. Use lighter tackle and you can get some fight out of the smallest fish in the lake.

• YOU’VE LANDED ONE!: As your fish gets closer to the boat, drop your entire rod and reel to your waist. If the fish goes under the boat, get your rod tip in the water and follow it. If you can see the fish, you’ll know when it’s tired. It’ll roll over on his side. And if you can’t see the fish, you’ll be able to feel it. Carefully avoiding hooks, many bass anglers use the thumb and index finger to grip a bass by its lower jaw. This holds the jaw wide open and temporarily paralyzes the fish. You can also land pan fish by pulling the fish towards you with the rod. Then grab the fish by the mouth or around the belly to remove the hook. There are special tools designed for taking out hooks; but needle-nosed pliers work pretty well. If you need to flatten the barb, use a hook remover or pliers. Professionals sometimes flatten the barbs on their hooks before they start fishing to cause less harm to the fish they catch. In some areas, you can only fish with barbless hooks.

For information on specific hunt dates and other hunting seasons throughout the year, as well as for fishing seasons and information on licensing, see the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website at www.myfwc.com.

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